As police continued to search for clues Saturday about a church shooting outside Birmingham, Alabama that left three dead, an elderly man who subdued the gunman is being hailed as a hero who could have prevented further bloodshed.
Three people aged between 75 and 84 were killed in the shooting at St Stephen’s Episcopal Church in the Vestavia Hills, just south of Birmingham, after a man who occasionally attended church services drew a gun during a potluck dinner. police said.
Police arrested a suspect identified as Robert Findlay Smith on Thursday. On Friday, he was charged with capital murder, according to the Jefferson County district attorney’s office.
The Rev. Doug Carpenter, who was pastor of St. Stephen’s for three decades before retiring in 2005, said he was told details of the shooting by a victim’s wife and other witnesses.
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One man introduced himself at the potluck only as “Mr. Smith” before sitting down at a table alone, Carpenter said, adding that he had done the same thing at a previous church dinner.
Carpenter said other attendees tried to talk to him, invited him to join their table and offered to fix him a plate of food. Still, the man sat alone.
“He was a little distant and very lonely,” Carpenter said.
Shortly after, the man pulled out his gun, he said.
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When the gunman opened fire, another churchgoer in his 70s charged at the suspect, hitting him with a chair and holding him down until police arrived, Carpenter said.
“He hit him with a folding chair, knocked him to the ground, took his gun and hit him in the head with his own gun,” he said.
Capt. Shane Ware of the Vestavia Hills Police Department said Friday that church members held the suspect until police arrived.
A mugshot shows Smith with a black eye and cuts to his face.
“The person who subdued the suspect, in my opinion, was a hero,” Ware said Friday, adding that his actions were “extremely critical to saving lives.”
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The victims of the shooting were an 84-year-old woman whose name has not yet been released by authorities; Walter Rainey, 84; and Sarah Yeager, 75.
The carnage is among a series of recent high-profile mass shootings across the country, including in Buffalo, New York, where 10 black people were killed in a grocery store and in Uvalde, Texas, where 19 children and two teachers were killed. murdered in a primary school. .
The shooting also came on the eve of the seventh Friday anniversary of a massacre at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina in 2015, when a white supremacist gunned down nine black worshipers during a Bible study.
Contributing: The Associated Press
Contact breaking news reporter Christine Fernando at email@example.com or follow her on Twitter at @christinetfern.